“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

When Paramount agreed to let Alfred Hitchcock (North by Northwest, Vertigo) make Psycho, they were sure it would be a flop—so much so that Hitchcock actually negotiated 60% of the profits rather than a flat rate. I had never seen the movie before last night, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure how good it would be. Well, Hitchcock proved Paramount and my doubts wrong—this is a masterpiece. Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Vera Miles, this is as clever as it is classic, and, while it may be a bit tame by today’s standards, the suspense holds up very well. I’m not usually a big fan of horror movies, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s endured as one of the best horror films of all time, and that position is well-earned.

The plot opens with Lila Crane, a young secretary, spending some time with her secret lover, Sam Loomis. They say their sad goodbyes (he lives in a different state and sees her only while traveling). After Lila is entrusted by her boss and a client with taking $40,000 to the bank (that’s about $337,000 in 2017 dollars), she finds the temptation to start a new life with her boyfriend too great and steals the money, leaving town to find him. Along the way, she checks into the Bates Motel, a small stop that doesn’t get much business anymore. She quickly finds that something sinister is going on with the motel’s owners: Norman Bates, a man about her age, and his mother Norma, who is sick and remains in her house most of the time. I don’t want to give away more than that, but trust me—it’s a wild ride.

It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

The art direction is stellar, but the acting is spectacular—particularly Anthony Perkins’s portrayal of Norman Bates. That was not an easy character to bring to life, but he did it. From the innocent first meeting with Lila to the chilling climax, Norman feels like someone you could really meet, but also like nobody you’ve ever met before. He so completely embodied this character that people thought of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates for the rest of his career. Also, Hitchcock called him “Master Bates” all throughout filming, so he gets points for that. The other lead performances were very good, but Perkins stole every scene he was in.

Norman Bates in Psycho
Norman Bates and his mother Norma are fascinating, and the relationship between them even more so.

Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, and this may be his most suspenseful film. Don’t let the melodramatic bits near the beginning fool you—this movie is gripping and extremely tense. 1960 had stricter guidelines on violence in film, so there’s nothing gratuitous here. But the tension and terror that build throughout the film are top-notch and very entertaining. I won’t give anything away, but the climax and ending were amazingly written and acted. This isn’t just a scary film—it’s very intelligent too. And the surprising complexity and depth of the villain make the movie scarier.

Psycho is an enduring classic of horror and suspense, and it’s a brilliant film. It’s smart and scary enough to hold the attention of any adult, but relatively free of gore and sex, making it safe for most teens too. If you’re having a Halloween movie night (or just a scary movie night), this would be a great pick that’s sure to satisfy most audiences. I’d recommend this to just about anyone.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 1:49
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1960
Genres: horror, mystery, thriller
Rating: R

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